The end of RAMP brought both excitement and anxiety. After a successful summer with YouthWorks last year, I was excited to get back into the daily rhythm that I knew all too well. But a new summer brings with it a new community, a new staff team, and a new group of kids to spend each day with.
As we made the trek from Delaware to West Virginia, I pondered over the little information I had about our site, Logan, and its Kids Club. The town is small and tucked in the mountains; Kids Club is also relatively small and I was told there were discipline problems. Many of the older kids who come have been attending for years can seem more interested in playing basketball than anything else.
Despite its reputation, the first week of Kids Club went splendidly. Almost all of the kids were excited to return to Kids Club and wanted to be involved in the programming. And as I was informed, there were some older kids who just wanted to play basketball. Thankfully, I enjoy playing basketball and it has been a great way to build relationships with many kids.
Unfortunately, some relationships don’t spark quite as quickly and some kids seem disinterested in what I have to say. As a default, it is easy for me to embrace the kids who listen and ignore kids who fail to cooperate. Rather than empathizing with some of the kids who needed love the most, I hid apathy towards more troublesome children. My discreet cold-heartedness made me forget about the people I came to serve, and turn my attention solely to the program I ran.
I began to realize my own mistakes at the end of the week. As our first community cookout drew to a close, I felt accomplished. Our first week went brilliantly and had set a solid foundation to build on for the rest of the summer. But as I boasted in what we had done, a man wandered into our gym and came searching for food. This gentleman was a victim to the dangers of coal mining; he retired early due to medical concerns. When he passed through our doors he seemed down on his luck and disheveled, but with little compassion I told him that the cookout was over. Fortunately there were other staff present who were more sympathetic to the person’s needs than I. I felt shook to my core as I had been so distracted by the program that I had forgotten about the people and could have failed to recognize when Jesus himself came walking through our door.
My failures at the cookout made me realize that while our programming now stood firm, the relationships being built must take priority. Jesus top priority in ministry was the person right in front of him. He moved between villages with a destination in mind, but never letting the schedule of his life dictate his compassion for the outcast. And likewise, we ought not let the schedule and programming of a YouthWorks summer take precedence over the relationships being built at Kids Club, at Work Projects, at evening activities, and at the community cookout. If we advertise that Jesus came to seek and save, to pursue, to restore, and to empower, the lost, the broken, and those who feel undesirable, then we must look through and past our programming to love those very same people that Jesus came to save.
This story was originally posted on YouthWorks’ Eastern Region Blog